The Other Down Under: New Zealand by V-Strom

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by skyguy, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Arlington, VA
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    (V-Strom under snow - February, 2010)



    Call me Skyguy.


    Sometimes the greatest adventures have the least auspicious beginnings.

    This one started in a blizzard.

    Way back in the winter of 2009/2010, the Washington DC area (where I live) was hit with back-to-back blizzards. Not the tasty Dairy Queen kind; these were snowstorms that dumped more than two feet of the white stuff. It was the snowiest winter ever recorded in the region. I haven't seen that many flakes since my high school reunion.
    Schools were closed for a week. The federal government was shut down. The entire population was stuck in their homes for days.


    I decided to use my trapped-at-home time off constructively:


    I watched the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on DVD. The extended versions. All of 'em. It was great.

    And it got me thinking. I was due for an adventure.

    Overdue, really. In my youth, I spent my summers doing long bicycle tours. Like Denver-to-Boston long. I've ridden the entire west coast, all of the Rocky Mountain states, in all but a handful of the United States.

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    (on a bicycle)

    Going-to-the-Sun Road? Did it. Icefields Parkway? Check. Alaska? Canadian Maritimes? Yep and yep. Iceland? Yes, Iceland. On a bicycle, loaded down with camping equipment. Sometimes with a group, sometimes alone. Always good fun.



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    (topping out on Going-to-the-Sun Highway, July 17, 1983)



    I don't really know why I stopped. Guess I just never got around to planning The Next Big Trip. Work consumed more time, vacation hours were scarce, and money was tight. Pick an excuse; most people have buckets of excuses in stock. And I kept getting older in the meantime.

    It's not like I wasn't having fun. I took up skydiving, and pursued that for a decade or so. I've logged 1,583 jumps. I've taken a few scuba trips, too. And the sky and the sea will always be a part of my life.


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    (West Point, VA – that's me facing you in the yellow)


    Then, a couple of years ago, I took up motorcycling... and it was like reuniting with an old friend. The motorcycle took me places I'd forgotten I loved. Two wheels, the open road, and the endless black ribbon of possibility... all that life-affirming, soul-satisfying stuff. That's where I wanted to be.

    Which brings us back to the snowy winter, and the Lord of the Rings. I was rapidly closing in on my first half-century of life on this planet, and wanted to do something momentous to mark the occasion. The movies got me thinking about New Zealand, which looked spectacular.

    And I could use me some spectacular.

    So, to celebrate my 50th birthday, I decided I would ride a motorcycle around New Zealand.

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    While I compost my thoughts, here are a few photos of coming attractions:


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    Coming soon!
    #1
  2. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass Awful Kanauphyl

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    I'm in! I'm hoping to do the same thing next year while I visit my brother over there.
    #2
  3. whatsgnu

    whatsgnu Scheissekopf

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2009
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    292
    Location:
    S. VT / W. MA
    I'm in....love my V strom, always wanted to go to NZ, need an adventure !
    #3
  4. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass Awful Kanauphyl

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    More!
    #4
  5. tuhughes

    tuhughes Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2010
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    20
    I had the same thought as I was driving around the south island a couple years ago, now I just need as excuse to go back!
    #5
  6. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    61,664
    Beautiful teaser pics :thumb

    :lurk
    #6
  7. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Arlington, VA
    So, where was I? Oh yes - to celebrate my 50th birthday, I decided I would ride a motorcycle around New Zealand.

    Not "around" as in circumnavigate, more like "around" as in "generally go to lots of different places." (ref. joke "Your momma's so fat, when she sits around New Zealand, she sits around New Zealand." Discuss.)
    And my actual birthday is in early July, which is the dead of winter in New Zealand. So some adjustments would need to be made.
    After checking work and airline schedules, I ended up picking February 15th, 2011, as my departure date. I have a ton of Delta frequent-flyer miles, but they don't fly to New Zealand. I could've taken one of their partner airlines, but the only one that goes to NZ was South Korean Air, and I'd have to go via Seoul – not the most direct route. So I ended up booking Delta to Sydney, then taking a little regional carrier (Pacific Blue) to Auckland.
    But my lord, it takes a long time to fly halfway around the world.
    DC to Atlanta.
    Atlanta to Los Angeles.
    Los Angeles to Sydney.
    Sydney to Auckland.
    (and back again!)
    That long Sydney flight crosses two major geographical landmarks: the equator and the International Date Line. These are the lines that we humans use to divide the globe into eastern and western hemispheres, as well as northern and southern hemispheres. I'd crossed the equator before, when I flew to South Africa for a friend's wedding. But the IDL was a new experience. Flying west, you lose a whole day when you cross that line. I took off from L.A. on Tuesday, then landed in Sydney on Thursday. Wednesday completely evaporated. I'll get it back when I fly home; taking off on a Wednesday afternoon and landing 13-odd hours later on... Wednesday morning. Who needs that many Wednesdays? Best not to think about it.

    I had a year to plan this trip. A whole year of maps and guidebooks; of pointing and clicking. I made the plane reservations first, then looked around for a place to rent a motorcycle. I ended up with Ardmore Motorcycle Rentals, mostly because they were in Auckland (well, near Auckland) and they would pick me up and drop me off from my motel. And, importantly – I could rent a Suzuki V-Strom from them. I ride a V-Strom 650 here at home (yes, yes, the "Wee-Strom") and I figured I'd have enough distractions riding in New Zealand without having to learn a new motorcycle as well. I reserved the bike, paid the deposit, and got on with the planning.
    Alarmingly, a month or two later, I got an e-mail from Ardmore saying that the company had changed hands. It was always a sort of mom-and-pop outfit, but now it was going to be run by some other person. I thought about pulling the plug and trying another company, but first I exchanged a couple of e-mails with the new owner, and my confidence was restored. Mostly. But up until I got the bike, I was a bit apprehensive.
    A year to plan. Naturally, being a lazy sack, I did most of the work in the last month or so. And some things remained unplanned even as I left. But planning – even a whole year of it – does not make for good ride reports. No, we need to get to the riding and the pictures and the adventures. And the misadventures.

    So... on with the show. Let's elide over that year of planning and jump ahead to January, 2011. Here's what January looked like:
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    All too familiar. As my departure date neared, my anticipation grew. This winter, the east coast of the USA got hit with storm after storm after storm, and I was nervously tracking the weather – not just in Washington DC, but in all my connecting cities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Sydney, Auckland. Australia was also getting hit with cyclones, flooding much of Queensland. But the stars aligned, and February 15th finally arrived, and the weather was good in all five cities. Hope I didn't use up all my luck on the first day.

    Time to go. I managed to fit everything – riding clothes, street clothes, camping gear, cameras and electronics – into two big duffel bags. My Wolfman tank bag, with accessory backpack straps, turned into my carry-on. Here I am at the airport –

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    I retouched that photo to look like I was a little softer in the midsection, and balder in the top section, so I wouldn't be so intimidating. You're welcome.

    My nephew gave me these anti-jet-lag pills. I'm going to try them on this trip. You chew one every two hours.


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    They're actually made in New Zealand, so if they don't work, I can always go to the company and complain in person.


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    Made it to Atlanta; the first and shortest flight of the day. Here's my ATL-LAX plane, a 777 just like the one I'll be riding from LAX to Sydney.

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    Sunset in Atlanta – note the planes all lined up to take off. Hurry up and wait.


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    Delta flight #17, seat 45-A.

    Pillow: Check

    Blankie: Check

    We're going to be spending a lot of time here.


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    Shout-out to Arizona, my old home-state, on the way to LAX.

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    An eye-blink in Los Angeles. And then, the long long flight into the darkness.

    I haven't spent that much time up in the air since I shared a see-saw with Carla Blavinovsky back in kindergarten.
    You know that sleepy-wakey feeling that you get when a small car falls on your head from a moderate height? It was like that, for some twenty-odd hours. I watched a couple of movies on the back-of-seat screen; INCEPTION was a perfect film to watch in this condition, especially when the aircraft turbulence synced up with action in the film. And that scene at the end (SPOILER ALERT) when everyone is waking up in the airplane? The sunrise hit right on time, when everyone was waking up on MY airplane – if I wasn't so loopy, it would've been pretty cool.


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    Sunrise over the Pacific.

    Finally hit Sydney, parked next to a massive Airbus A-380 (Emirates) which is quite a behemoth, making even the ever-present 747s look a bit small. Well, in comparison.


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    (moooo...) Note the two jetways - one for each deck, top and bottom.


    Sydney customs were fine, but they're very particular about biological contamination. I had to inform them about the granola bars I had in my luggage, because they had seeds in them. Good thing they didn't ask me about that jar of Zebra mussels, kudzu, and the Pine Beetle larvae in my carry-on...
    Grabbed a quick bite, and checked my bags in to the New Zealand flight, for an extra $90 in excess baggage fees ($10 per kilo x 9 kilos over). Boarded the little-by-comparison Pacific Blue 737, and took off for my fourth – and final – flight of this journey.

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    That's the Tasman Sea down there, a couple thousand kilometers of open ocean between Australia and New Zealand.

    Less than three hours later... What's that up ahead?

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    "Feet dry" over NEW ZEALAND.

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    N E W W W W - Z E E E A L A N D

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    I finally landed in NEW FRICKIN' ZEALAND.

    Collected my bags – they made it all the way with me – snagged some NZ cash at an ATM and caught a cab to the motel. Wandered around and found dinner. (you know what McDonald's calls a Quarter-Pounder in New Zealand? A Quarter-Pounder. Screw the metric system) Activated my cell phone and misspelled a text to my friends back in the US: "Full moon over Auckland – I have aprived."

    Slept. Woke. And the real adventure began.

    Next time: Less airplanes. More motorcycling. Sorry about all the preamble.

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    #7
  8. ThirdBestFriend

    ThirdBestFriend Explorer

    Joined:
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    SF Bay Area
    I'm in. Great writing.
    #8
  9. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass Awful Kanauphyl

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    The Lost Coast of California
    I'm loving this report and picturing my own dashing self in your place next year.
    #9
  10. Dudelookslikealady

    Dudelookslikealady Somewhere Else

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2006
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    Location:
    Alexandria, VA (DC area)
    Keep it coming! :clap
    #10
  11. Speeder54

    Speeder54 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
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    47
    Location:
    Kalispell, Montana
    Man do I miss home... have a safe trip and enjoy the country.
    #11
  12. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass Awful Kanauphyl

    Joined:
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    The Lost Coast of California
    You lived there and LEFT!???!!!! Why on earth?
    #12
  13. silly torque

    silly torque kiwi in NL

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2008
    Oddometer:
    67
    Location:
    Netherlands
    we tend to do that........ here's a figure to ponder.... New Zealand has a population circa 4 million. There are 9 million passports.........

    We travel like crazy and sometimes we get lost along the way..... or kidnapped by a 6ft tall dutch girl as in my case... :evil.

    Back on topic....nice report.. keep it coming. ( i didn't start riding until i got to Europe but really want to go back and do a tour of the homeland... so look forward to reading the rest)
    #13
  14. amsterdamned

    amsterdamned Adventurer

    Joined:
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    northern va usa
    Enjoying the ride,...and, next?
    #14
  15. PacificPT

    PacificPT Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2006
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    987
    Location:
    Monterey, CA
    Waiting for more.......
    #15
  16. themobb

    themobb Is this thing on???

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2002
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Hooksett, NH
    Enjoy NZ!

    Great place with beautiful scenery, people and outstanding beer...


    Cuisine, on the other hand....


    :hide


    Lance
    #16
  17. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
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    171
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    18 Feb 2011 – kms today: 201 – kms to date: 201
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    Slept great for about five hours, then drifted in and out. Kept being awakened by the ice machine, which sounded like breaking glass every time it dropped a load of cubes. Finally got up at 7:00a and wandered down to a local restaurant for breakfast. These kiwis like a lot of fat on their bacon. That's not a euphemism; they actually like a lot of fat on their bacon.

    Back to motel and packed up. Randal, the new owner of Ardmore Motorcycle Rentals, arrived right on time to pick me up and drive me to his place in Maraetai. Got the day off to a good start by trying to get into the right front seat of Randal's car. "How about if I drive?" he offered.
    Drive on the left. Drive on the left. I had been repeating this in my mind for the last few weeks. And honestly, I adjusted to driving on the left pretty well, but throughout the trip I kept looking for the drivers of other vehicles to be in the front left seat, and was always surprised when I saw a child, or a dog, or a bag of groceries, "driving" the car.

    It took about twenty minutes to get to get to Randal's place, Maraetai, a little town on the coast. There was the V-Strom, a 2007 model, in decent shape aside from some small scratches on the luggage from tipping over once or twice. (and no center stand) Randal and I went over the paperwork, and then he had to go to his real job, so he left me to finish sorting out the bike and packing everything up

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    Randal presents - your rental V-Strom 650

    Got the tank bag mounted, then stuffed all my clothes into the liners that I'd brought, and stuffed them in to the (Suzuki) side cases. They're a bit wider than the Jesse cases I have mounted on my 'Strom at home [FORESHADOWING ALERT].
    The remainder of my gear – laptop, shoes, raingear, etc. – was crammed into the top case, and I do mean crammed.

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    Packed and ready - Mile zero

    I found a neat little (cheap!) GPS mounting solution over on Stromtrooper, and I brought it with me from America. Had to fiddle a bit to get the it installed, but it's in there pretty well now, and functions perfectly. The zümo powered up, and I zeroed the trip meters and called up the route for DAY 01.


    This was it. Finally, actually, really and truly hit the road a bit before noon. Driving on the left (pronounced "leeft") was not bad, you really only have to pay attention at intersections.
    The GPS routed me perfectly, and I was on the Coromandel Peninsula in no time



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    V-Strom poses with the Firth of Thames in the background

    Oh. My. GOD. Spectacular roads. But very twisty and turny and up and downy, so it was definitely a challenge. There were a few times when I pulled over (to the leeft) to let faster vehicles pass, but on the whole, the roads were pretty empty. Good thing, too, what with all the narrowness and such. But spectacular scenery throughout; the road is right on the coast, with the Firth of Thames to my immediate left.



    Well, here's something you don't see every day...

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    ...a sheep!


    Encountered the first of many one-lane bridges I would find along the way. Once you're out of the big cities, the roads - even the "main highways" - reverted to two lanes. And sometimes less: one-lane bridges (and tunnels, and whole sections of road) were common. Basically, whoever gets there first, goes first. If someone's on the bridge, you're supposed to stop on your side and wait for them to get clear. It's basically a system based on politeness, and it works quite well, and most one-lane bridges are pretty short.
    This one was a bit too long for that strategy, so they put in a traffic light. But progress is on the march - you can see the new, higher, two-lane bridge being constructed at right.

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    That's the Coromandel Peninsula across the bridge in the background



    The coastal scenery was very insistent, and would not be ignored. Consequently, I had to stop to take lots of pictures.

    The road behind...

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    ...and the road ahead:

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    Here's another shot for the Suzuki catalog:
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    That body of water behind the bike is the Firth of Thames, not to be confused with the Firth of Forth, the Firth of Fifth, or the Thames River, all of which are based in the U.K..



    The route turned inland and climbed into the hills now and again, revealing more bucolic scenery.
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    More sheeps!


    And here's the one and only photo I took with the tiny little tripod I brought with me.

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    I give you – The Coromandel Peninsula!


    After that, I just did the old arm's-length routine. That's the beauty of digital photography: I took this shot about five times before I got the bike in the right place. Click-erase click-erase click-erase click-erase... and... click... acceptable.

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    Eventually got to Coromandel Town in time for a late lunch at "Munchies," then back up into the mountains over the peninsula for a GREAT viewpoint – Coromandel Town and the Firth of Thames in one direction...

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    ...then Whitianga and the Pacific in the other direction.

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    A few more ups and downs and I was in Whitianga. Checked in to the "On The Beach" Backpackers Lodge (which is what they call hostels down here, 'cause "hostel" sounds too much like "hostile," and they are a very friendly people).

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    "On The Beach" is right – just across the road is Buffalo Beach, named after the HMS Buffalo, which sank here in 1840 after delivering a load of convicts to Australia.

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    Again with the beach. That's Mercury Bay lapping those waves onto the sand; named by Captain Cook who came ashore here in 1769 to observe a transit of the planet Mercury. See what you learn when you read historical plaques?

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    Captain, Cook


    Who doesn't like a beach?


    Somebody made this little structure out of beach debris. My money's on Captain Cook. Or possibly rowdy teens.
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    She's looking east into the Pacific as the sun sets behind us. Those tiny islands on the horizon of Mercury Bay are imaginatively called the Mercury Islands. Whalers thought it would be a good idea to string a massive net between one of the islands and the mainland to catch whales. Unfortunately for them, the whales didn't take that route, going around instead on the seaward side of the islands. Whales 1, Whalers 0.


    Here's another relic of the whaling era. That's a blubber pot on the left, used to boil down the whale blubber into whale oil. And that's an anchor on the right, used for compositional symmetry.

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    I do enjoy a nice walk on the beach. It makes me feel tall.

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    No wonder I sometimes feel a little cramped on the V-Strom...




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    My February feet, white and corpse-like in the surf


    Once you get out past the Mercury Islands, you've got a few thousand kilometers of open ocean, and then... Chile. And sometimes the open ocean gives up some decent treasures, like this big ol' log. Glad I didn't just dive in to the surf...
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    Ambled into town for dinner. Whitianga is a sleepy little beach town, and it's nice. Oh, and pronunciation tip: "Wh-" at the beginning of a word is pronounced "F," so this town sounds like "Fitianga." But a regular "W" is pronounced "W," like Waitomo. It's kind of whucked up.

    Took some pictures of the big full moon rising over Mercury Bay. If I get up early tomorrow, I can watch the sun rise over the Pacific – I've never seen it from this side.



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    As first days go, I can't imagine a better one.
    #17
  18. c5babe

    c5babe Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2008
    Oddometer:
    265
    Location:
    North Woods
    Cool. I'll be reading this.
    :lurk
    #18
  19. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
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    1,543
    Location:
    The Frozen North
    Nice story-telling! Keep it coming, please.
    :ear
    #19
  20. BikeLugger

    BikeLugger Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2009
    Oddometer:
    211
    Location:
    Lancashire, UK
    Great writing style, and lots of cracking photos!

    Looking forward to you bringing back some happy memories. We spent three weeks touring NZ a few years ago in a motorhome (it was august). Already spotted a few familiar views.

    Beautiful place, friendly happy people and fantastically quiet roads.

    Keep it up.:thumbup
    #20